School Libraries in South Africa

Extracted from The state of libraries in South Africa. (2015). Pretoria, South Africa: Arts and Culture Department.


The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) held their Congress August 13-19 in Cape Town, South Africa. Besides enjoying the wonderful scenery and graciousness of the local population, librarians from around the world shared their professional situations. Part of that experience was learning about libraries in South Africa.

School libraries have witnessed great fluctuations over the past twenty years. With the overhaul of government in 1994 all teacher librarian post were abolished, with private funds being one of the few ways to ensure professional school librarian staffing.

Government priorities have changed since then, largely due to grassroots efforts and the involvement of NGOs. Organizations have donated books and provided training, as well as converted spaces into school libraries.

As this point about two-thirds of schools have some kind of library: 14% have a central library with resources, another 9% have a library without resources, a third have a classroom collection of library resources, and 4% have mobile/bookmobile library service. About a fifth of schools are located near public libraries, so the need is great. Particularly as the poor reading level of learners has been documented, government is seeing the importance of student access to rich library collections.

School libraries tend for focus on providing appropriate circulating collections: print books, periodical, and some CD/DVDs and imagers. Highly supported libraries provide Internet access. Most materials are in English, and some libraries provide books in Afrikaans or other local languages. Nevertheless, budgets are problematic and uneven throughout the country. The biggest challenge remains the lack of staffing. School librarians are often part-time or temporary.

In the face of these challenges, school librarians continue to work hard to promote quality school library programs of resources and services.

Submitted by Lesley Farmer

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